A young engineer comes to fix the dishwasher in the home of a handsome billionaire. Little does she know of his talent for making chicken satay, or his hidden hobby. Will they find love together in the kitchen or will her own, shameful secret destroy their budding romance?
She’d only come to fix the dishwasher.
But the handsome, rich, famous, handsome, coveted, handsome billionaire had just invited Saffron to stay for lunch. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“I’m making chicken satay,” he’d purred, leaning seductively against the counter top.
As he gathered the ingredients, she couldn’t help but notice the gentle swell of his shoulders pressing eagerly against his pale linen shirt. Something inside her stirred and she reminded herself to buy deworming tablets for the cat again.
“C-can I help at all?” she stammered, not daring to think about the way he was peeling a thumb-sized piece of ginger so tenderly, using only a teaspoon.
“Absolutely. You can grate those two cloves of garlic into a bowl and add the juice and zest of a lime.”
Stunned by his sudden directness, Saffron got to work.
The billionaire had been watching her closely the whole time. There was something about the deftness with which she peeled the garlic cloves; something deliberate about the way she’d extracted every last drop of lime juice. And the way she’d fixed the dishwasher catch in just 5 minutes was mightily impressive. He wished he could take a look into her toolkit.
When Saffron had finished with the lime and garlic, the billionaire grated the ginger into the same bowl, and added a dash of soy sauce and tablespoon of curry powder. He drizzled in some honey from a height, and his eyes met hers over the golden stream. As he reached into the cupboard for some peanut butter, Saffron let her thoughts wander to just how brooding his forearms were. The rumours about his past must be true, she thought, with forearms like those.
He added three thick tablespoons of peanut butter to the bowl. Looking directly into her eyes, he licked the spoon clean.
“Time to turn up the heat in here,” he said, stroking the touchscreen hob with a manly finger. He added two thirds of the mixture to a small pan along with half a tin of coconut milk and turned it down to the lowest setting to simmer. Saffron knew it was time to ask the age old question.
“Breasts or thighs?” she said, daringly.
She’d gone too far. She’d blown it. It was all over now.
The billionaire looked up from the saucepan and laid the spoon deliberately on the chrome-plated, monogrammed spoon rest.
Saffron gulped and brought her gaze to meet his.
“It depends on what you’re going to be doing with them” he said.
“Oh?” she said.
“For this…” he swept a quick look over Saffron, “I prefer breasts”.
“That makes sense I suppose,” she whispered. “Should I fetch them?”
“They’re already out, coming to room temperature so they cook more evenly,” said the billionaire, pointing at a bowl by the sodastream. Saffron nodded. She’d read Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat too. He obviously had impeccable taste in cooking literature.
“You could give me a hand slicing these breasts into strips if you like” he offered. He handed her an expensive looking knife and gestured at an enormous chopping board. Together they sliced, elbows touching occasionally. Electricity flowed between them. Wearing that cheap nylon jumper was a mistake, she thought.
When the chicken breasts – all four of them – were sliced into thin strips, the billionaire placed them in the bowl with the remaining third of the satay sauce.
“We have to let everything get to know each other” he said softly, tossing the breasts with his bare hands.
Saffron couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. This guy knew what he was doing. She’d never seen a man handle breasts with such finesse before.
“I suppose they’ll have to marinade for a while,” said Saffron, gaining confidence. He wasn’t nearly as intimidating as other people had made out.
“Correct,” said the billionaire, covering the bowl in clingfilm and washing his hands. He switched the hob off. “We’ll have to find a way to pass the time”.
Saffron’s heart skipped a beat. Suddenly he was very close to her. So close that he could smell the scent of dishwasher lubricant and last night’s beef bourguignon. He inhaled deeply, and pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear.
“I have a pleasure room” he whispered. “Would you like to see it?”
The hairs on her neck stood up. She nodded fervently. He took her by the hand and led her to a door at the far end of the enormous grey kitchen. There was a fingerprint scanner on the wall, which he pressed. The door slid open. She couldn’t believe her eyes as she stepped inside.
Time stood still, on one leg.
Wall to wall were hundreds of jars of the most eclectic shapes and sizes. Each one had a different coloured label on it, scrawled with spidery writing. She walked slowly, reading each one: quince jelly, homemade sauerkraut, bramble jam, tomatillo chutney. From the ceiling hung rows of hams and cured meats; she could make out the shape of a cold smoke generator through the gloom. There were demijohns of cider at the sides of the room, and hundreds of bottles of different flavoured syrups for making cocktails or pouring over ice cream.
“Do you like it?”
His voice derailed her train of thought and all the passengers fell out.
“It’s the most amazing room I’ve ever seen” she said breathlessly. She could almost hear him smiling.
As she walked further in, a yeasty scent filled the air.
“You make your own beer too?” she asked.
“Sourdough. That’s the starter you can smell. The discard makes the most incredible brownies.”
But something wasn’t right. Something felt off. Then, she placed it.
“Where’s the wine?”
He chuckled softly, the first time she’d heard his laugh.
“That’s all over at the vineyard.”
She could have fainted. Saffron loved food and cooking, and made her own mincemeat every year at Christmas. This truly was the pleasure room she’d been promised. Filled with happiness, she looked over to the backlit bookshelf on the left hand side of the room. Yes, she was right about Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. And there was plenty more besides. This was an entire library of cookbooks and put her collection to shame. She was in awe of this man and his dedication to the craft.
Time decided to move again because its leg was getting tired.
“Th-the chicken,” she muttered.
“Yes, I’m rather hungry too,” he said. He plucked a bottle from a nearby shelf, and guided Saffron out of the magnificent larder. He’d just revealed a part of himself that no other woman had ever seen.
They returned to the bright daylight of the kitchen and he threaded the chicken strips in an S shape onto some soaked wooden skewers while she sipped a glass of handmade elderflower cordial. He switched on the grill to max and let the chicken satay char for around 10 minutes, turning it occasionally.
The bottle contained homemade sweet chilli sauce, which he poured into a small bowl, alongside a bowl of the warm satay sauce from earlier.
“Could you find my nuts?” asked the billionaire, pointing his knife tip towards the cupboard.
Saffron rummaged around and found a packet of peanuts. The branded ones of course – he was a billionaire after all.
He roughly chopped a handful and scattered them over the satay skewers which he’d removed from the oven. It smelled incredible.
But then, Saffron noticed the billionaire chopping coriander. Should she say something? Oh god, she didn’t want it anywhere near that lovely chicken satay.
“Oh, um, would you mind if I didn’t have coriander on mine?”
He lowered the knife gingerly, because it still had a little ginger on it.
“You’re one of those?” he said, barely able to hide the disappointment.
“ ‘fraid so. Tastes like soap to me.”
To Saffron’s horror, the man started to cry. He threw down the knife and held his head in his hands.
“Just when you think you’ve found the one” he sobbed, “just when you think you’ve found her, she turns out to hate herbs”.
She was stunned but decided to right things there and then.
“I don’t understand,” she said softly. “I like parsley, and rosemary and thyme and all the other things that Simon and Garfunkel mention in that lovely tune of theirs.”
“You do?” He looked up from the half-chopped coriander hopefully.
“I do,” she said, smiling.
“Just coriander you don’t like?”
He took a few deep breaths and began plating up the chicken satay skewers, sprinkling the green speckles over just one dish.
“It’s very good you like that song,” he said, spooning a colourful grain salad alongside.
“Why’s that so?”
“You never asked me my name, Saffron.” He chopped cucumber nonchalantly, not looking directly at her.
He looked up, stared into her eyes and smiled a winning, handsome, secret smile.
“My name is Sage.”